Vintage vs Modern Perfumes

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Kate Apted

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Well, well, APJ family, we meet again. Don’t… the pleasure is all mine!

This morning, I was filling up my car with petrol before work, and I was mulling over the vintage Coco parfum I was wearing. I love the opulent fullness of the notes and the complexity of the scent, even though the top notes have almost evaporated away. Later in the afternoon, I was to pick up a vintage Safari parfum and was already anticipating the lush dry greenness.

Vintage vs Modern Perfumes

It occurred to me that I have increasingly become adjusted to modern perfumes. A few years ago, I was adamant I’d never come to value many modern perfumes, thinking them vacuous, empty, almost skeletal in nature. An immediate corollary is found in the trucking industry; hard core fans of battered old US trucks with double clutching Road Ranger gear boxes have not come to appreciate the soft ride of the very plastic, disposable parts style of automatic Euro trucks. Yet.

I hear it constantly; washing machines were hardier back in my day, tomatoes tasted better when I was a child, I could fix those myself way back then. We all bemoan how plastic the world has become and yet we want cheaper parts, more environmentally friendly products and instant retail gratification.

Would I truly be happy with the thick, dense, all encompassing scents of the 70s? Did women back then complain about yet another aldehyde, or the clone like spicy orientals made popular by Opium (YSL)? Mind you, we had lead petrol, smoking parents and office workers, and cars with rich running carburettors that spat out half a tank of unburnt fuel on a trip to the supermarket to contend with, so perfumes HAD to rise above all that.

Are the clean, yet empty seeming scents of today that bad? We have fewer allergens (depending on who one asks, but I have no skin rashes like I did as a 70s child), less harmful practices ecologically and towards animals, plus synthetics have given us undreamed of concoctions – think how Tauer’s La Marocain may have gone down in 1972!

No, as I put the nozzle back into the bowser holder, I decided that I like the odd vintage scent because it does stand out amongst the thin juices of today. I didn’t appreciate my perfumes back then for the qualities I enjoy them for now. Having the perfume industry skeletise (yes, my own word) scents has allowed me to fully understand the glory I took for granted then. I am not wanting to return to the train-carriage-choking days of Lou Lou on a stinking hot day, or the overwhelming body dousing of classic men’s Lagerfeld though.

Though I find modern Safari as appealing as a broiling chicken done from making soup stock, and the current Samsara as plastic and nose burning as cling wrap on fire in a 1 acre factory, I am pleased there is responsible farming practices of sandalwood and ingredients are less harsh on the skin. Just as I am glad we can quickly change parts on a truck to get the driver on the road as soon as possible, lead has been taken out of petrol (those blasted headaches caused by internally leaking fuel tanks) and civets can peacefully go about their business.

Alas, getting older is bitter-sweet. However, I can, hand on heart, say that no era is any better than another. Same goes for perfume, dare I say it. There are pros and cons to them all.

Just remind me to not wear vintage Coco parfum to work again. My favourite, yet highly sensitive, co-worker gets a headache from my vintages. And January Scent Project scents. And my Guerlains. And anything tobacco, or patchouli, or violet, or naturals.

Do you concur, or are you vehemently opposed to the current state of perfumery? Where do you sit with regard to vintage perfumes?

May your week hold you with warm, safe arms.

Kate xx

36 thoughts on “Vintage vs Modern Perfumes

  1. Love vintages. Own many moderns. Agree that authentic, well-crafted vintages with ingredients no longer available or legal to use trump moderns. I keep going back to them over and over, especially in spring when I want my floral aldehydes. I honestly could live without oakmoss though.

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  2. You said it best yourself when you said there are pros and cons to both. I’m at the front of the queue of vintage lovers, I love the denseness, the gentle unfolding of those sneaky little buried notes and the big brash aldehydic openings. That feeling of soft envelopment that can transport me in my very own time machine. But, I can really appreciate our current perfumes, there’s a place for a lightness of hand and clever chemistry. And some current perfumers can really capture the essence of what vintage perfume had, so all is not lost. And I have to confess that I was one of those wicked people who stunk up the London Underground in the 80s with my Lou Lou, Opium, Ysatis and lots of others that I’m unashamed of😆

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  3. Hey Kate, vintage perfumes are something I never really got into. However, I was very lucky to buy three in Vienna. I would love to have some vintage Shalimar and Mitsouko one day. I am quite satisfied with modern perfumes and still enjoy trying new releases when I can.
    Sandra xo

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    • Sandra, I admit to being quite stubborn. Only took me 15 years to finally try Coco Mademoiselle and Miss Dior (2012). Coming back into perfumes after a long break, I found myself constantly sooking. Even humble Pleasures was different!

      But I do feel modern scents have a lot to offer. My belived Nomade…!

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  4. Hey Kate,
    I’m ticking the GIVE ME ALL THE PERFUME box. I find myself less and less discerning as my journey continues and attracted to modern and vintage.
    Oakmoss is an ingredient that brings me head swimming, swooning joy but so do some of the modern ubiquities like 1SO E and Ambroxan when treated right.
    Portia xx

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  5. Where do I sit with regard to vintage? I wore so many back in the days of their releases that it saddens me a bit to now smell them without their top notes…just isn’t the same. So I try not to actively pursued vintage. So many of those beauties live in my memory alone.
    I find that much of the modern stuff is overpriced and redundant, shallow copycats of drugstore perfumes I wore years ago for a fraction of the price. While I like/tolerate most of the stuff that’s out there it takes a lot to really wow me these days.

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    • Brigitte, I tend to think like you. Top notes are half the fun, and one really has to like the syrupy base notes to fully embrace vintages. I try to not feel too sad about our loss of oakmoss, especially, for it was full and covered the spectrum of top to base notes on its own.

      Like Sebastian states below, there is a lot more to the mod vs vintage debate than I allude to, but still, there is a unanimous agreement that modern scents have a lot to live up to… and don’t.

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  6. Hi Kate! I lean towards vintage perfumes although I own and wear a fair share of modern ones, both original creations and reformulations of the old ones. The thing that irritates me about the modern perfumery is that they use certain new ingredients to which I’m highly sensitive, to the point where there’s tightness in my throat if I smell or even hold a sample! Mind you, I have a vial of oakmoss material, and I’ve never had an allergic reaction to it.
    When I buy vintage, I only worry that it might have turned or just isn’t what I imagine it to be, but I know that they’re safe for me. With modern ones, it’s always a lottery as I’ve had unpleasant surprises with likes of Dusita, Cartier, Nasomatto, to say nothing of less-known houses. I don’t know what causes the reaction, could be a solvent or an actual ingredient.

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    • Interesting, Diana. I always guessed there would be folk with allergies to these ‘modern’ compounds. What a shame it would be to return to good ole oakmoss for your health?!? But in all seriousness, though we tend to have gentle type scents now, everything is perfumed and I suspect we are overloaded with the lot. Do you get it with detergents etc?

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      • Kate, I usually don’t have allergic reactions to laundry detergents unless someone’s used too much to wash their clothes 😦 . The easiest way to understand which perfumes might not work for me or trigger an allergic reaction would be to learn where the brands get their ingredients from: the usual suspects Givaudan, Firmenich or IFF, or independent suppliers but it would take an incredible amount of time and probably guarantee nothing.

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      • I forgot to mention that it’s not that I’m some kind of shrinking violet: I’m not afraid to wear big scents, – Shalimar, Kouros, Antaeus are my faves, as well as some heavy on incense or patchouli fragrances, so the idea of a perfume is not the issue per se, what it’s made of is.

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  7. I am not sure I agree with your very sweeping description of the difference between modern and vintage perfumes. Could you elaborate on that, please? It is a question I find interesting, and have not come to grips with. But I think the answer must be complex.

    So, for what reasons does a perfume feel modern? Many certainly can be immediately recognized as modern, but I still can’t put my finger on why. Take Zoologist Rhinoceros as an example. It is very old-fashioned and gentlemanly in a way, but unmistakably modern. It is definitely not neo-vintage (a category of perfume that @cassieflower seems to like, but which I mostly detest). But what is it that makes it modern?

    It cannot be lack of complexity or denseness, the note list is not short. You also mentioned January Scent Project. John Biebel’s stuff is complicated, and it does give some people headaches, but it’s avant garde like anything.

    But I do find in many modern perfumes a trend towards simplification, even transparency. There is often a lack of development, much modern produce is very linear. I believe that this is due to marketing considerations: they want you to buy the product on the spot, and not come back later and complain that it smells differently.

    Many modern perfumes also seem to be engineered to appeal to inexperienced users, with an aim of just smelling nice. Even among “niche” perfumers, there are very few who go ahead with a bold artistic vision, and beauty be damned.

    Most modern mainstream and independent fragrances are also sweet to a degree or in a manner that I find hard to support. I find it difficult to discover new perfumes that do sweetness right. Perhaps this is a sign of a bit of escapism?

    So am I right? Are linearity and a liking of sweetness among the essential hallmarks of modern perfumery? But what else is there?

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    • Pretty much it, Sebastian, but more so the actual ingredients used too. Oakmoss just isn’t oakmoss any more. Any perfume from the last 15-20 years containing oakmoss has a flatness, much like stale, decarbobated lemonade. Perfumes from my youth contain a richer, denser oakmoss that fills that very void you note about modern scents.

      I tend to make ‘very sweeping description(s)’ because I have a word limit to my posts. As it is a topic I feel passionate about, I have to leave the minutae to the comments section. Plus, I have very mixed, almost conflicting, emotions regarding it all.

      Modern perfumes are often sweet, much to my disappointment, but there are some scents that are marvellous in their own right, irrespective of the era of production.

      In essence, the main difference for me is the ingredients and how hollow newer scents feel. It is akin to those sugary, edible sprinkles we put on cakes as a child. They are now wan, pale, pastel colours. Bright colourings are no longer used because of allergens and senstivities. Health vs full experience of sugar AND additives!

      I make it simple, but in fact, it is a complex topic.

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      • The other issue is the trend of scents. I love my aldehydes and dry chypres, which are out of fashion. Anything of these genres made now miss the mark a little; I am guessing it is the isolated molecules used.

        But then I do enjoy the way moderns handle patchouli.

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  8. I enjoyed vintage perfumes during their day, and I enjoy modern ones now. There’s always something good to wear, so I just move along with the times and whatever’s going.

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  9. You make great points. While I am clearly biased towards vintages, I also have found some gems among post-2000s including Dior Homme and Cuiron. We may feel nostalgic about the past, also due to personal bias as everyone thinks their era is the best. This era is cleaner, more progressive, and with better technologies though some technologies such as social media have also proved to be quite toxic. So I am with you on the most part.

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  10. I love some vintage. I love some modern. In the 70’s and 80’s I wore Youth Dew and Opium and L’Air du Temps and many others without any problems or irritations. When I lived in New York City I remember signs in restaurant windows that said “No Giorgio Allowed” It was the one heavy hitter that seemed to get on every last New Yorker’s nerve.
    I have had reactions to a few modern things. But since formulas are such a secret I will never know what caused the skin irritation.
    Despite some negative reviews I must admit I do love some of the recent Chanel releases.

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    • Funnily, I think some of the new ingredients in perfume do cause more skin irritation. I use a naturals perfume brand and never had an issue. If anything, I find them calmer on my skin.

      L’Air Du Temps is a honey of a scent.

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  11. I am a feather in the wind, influenced by the last thing I read – so I bought vintage Diorissimo. I love lily of the valley, and I read the new juice was not a patch on the old. My source (I should probably say dealer) included free a sample of vintage No.19 parfum, and I was lost. Have bought two more bottles of vintage No. 19 from him. Otherwise, I am happy with various new scents. But I’ll probably never buy modern 19 as I should be set for life!

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  12. As a rule, I do not like vintage perfumes. I would love to wear many of them had they been produced fresh today but I do not enjoy that “vintage” vibe in most perfumes and prepared to tolerate it only for several most beloved perfumes from my past.

    I’m sure that today, just in numbers (not proportionally), there are more great perfumes than there used to be in 70s or 80s, though, of course, there were some great perfumes that, most likely, are impossible today – for all those reasons you’ve mentioned.

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  13. You all have such fascinating and insightful opinions and comments. I really enjoy this post Kate, as I myself have been oscillating between vintage and modern. I appreciate both. If I had to choose, I prefer vintage for all the reasons stated above. However, there are many perfume houses and independent perfumers creating beautiful fragrances now as well. Therefore, I do purchase and wear both vintage and modern. However, I don’t love super sweet or fleeting scents which are popular now. I love how vintage perfume envelope me and lasts on my skin.

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